One of Scotland’s leading filmmakers is to tackle the Lockerbie disaster, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.
Oscar winner Kevin Macdonald plans to lift the lid on the “unanswered conspiracy” behind Britain’s worst terrorist atrocity.
It will chart events from the day of the 1988 tragedy, which claimed 270 lives, to the present day with relatives of the victims still campaigning for justice.
The script is being developed by one of Scotland’s most acclaimed playwrights, David Harrower. It will be produced by Christopher Young, who created the Gaelic drama Bannan for BBC Alba.
The film, casting for which is expected to get under way within months, will depict the only man convicted over Britain’s worst terrorist atrocity as innocent and raise fresh questions about his controversial release from behind bars in Scotland and his return to Libya.
It is hoped the film, expected to have a budget of at least £10 million, will be shot in the UK, including Lockerbie itself.
Film4 and the BFI are funding the Lockerbie film, which had been under discussion between Macdonald and Young for several years before Harrower was signed up for the project in early 2016. Filming could begin this year, ahead of a possible release in 2018, coinciding with the disaster’s 30th anniversary.
Glasgow-born Macdonald won an Academy Award for One Day In September, a documentary about the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Macdonald also directed The Last King Of Scotland, which saw Forest Whitaker win the best actor Oscar for his portrayal of Ugandan president Idi Amin.
Harrower’s best-known work, Blackbird, as premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2005, later transferred to London’s West End and Broadway, and was adapted into a film, Una, last year.
News of the Lockerbie feature film has emerged less than a year after a controversial book by former Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill. MacAskill decided to free Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds in 2009 – eight years after his conviction following a historic trial under Scottish law in the Netherlands. A co-accused, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was found not guilty.
Megrahi launched a second appeal when he was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer in 2008. He abandoned his appeal in August 2009, and two days later MacAskill ordered his release amid predictions he had three months to live. He died in May 2012. Relatives of victims failed in a bid to pursue an appeal two years ago, but have vowed to continue to “fight for justice”.
Macdonald said: “I’ve been thinking about a film on Lockerbie for around 10 years.
“It feels like one of those huge events that sort of casts a shadow over Scottish life. It seems like it is Britain’s JFK in some ways – a looming unanswered conspiracy. There has been so much speculation and it is fascinating that more than 25 years later nobody seems to know for certain the answers to a lot of questions. There are very few events like that.
“We’ll be telling the whole story in the sense we’ll going from the day of the bombing up to the present day. It’s very hard because there is just so much in there. That’s one of the things that’s flummoxed a lot of writers before.
“One of the things that JFK, Oliver Stone’s film, does very well is to have layer upon layer upon layer of characters and testimony to create this atmosphere of complexity and yet at the heart of it is a very straightforward emotional story.
“We’re trying to be faithful to the complexity of Lockerbie by telling a simple story.
“It’s a very delicate thing trying to make a film based on real events. A lot of people out there were affected by Lockerbie and lost loved ones. There is a great sense of responsibility and of wanting to contribute in a positive way rather than doing anything that’s going to cause any more pain.”
Young added: “As far as we’re concerned we don’t believe Megrahi was responsible. To me, it is as clear as day, but I suspect the general public assume Megrahi did it.
“We’re interested in telling a story about what we think really happened and also the extent to which people who want to know the truth have been, in all kinds of ways, blocked from that, most obviously by governments. It suited everybody really well that Megrahi went home and died.
“There are a number of people in Scotland who feel very strongly that justice was ill-served. If we are to have any faith in our justice system we need to know the truth.
“Given that is the largest mainland terrorist attack in our history, given it was also the prelude to 9/11 and everything that followed, and given the incredible mess we are in now, it seems to us that there is no excuse whatsoever for more time to pass.
“Any miscarriage of justice on this scale is an urgent matter. If the only way of bringing these things to light is to make a film then so be it.”